From the Heart and Stroke Foundation

From the moment you get out of bed to the time you fall back on the pillow, you never know if you'll run into an unforeseen stressful situation. But hectic mornings, forgotten lunches, wardrobe disasters and overlooked appointments don't have to get you flustered – especially when you can avoid these problems altogether. Planning and preparation are the best-kept secrets to keeping your life more balanced. "Start to pay attention and become aware of stressful things in your life," says Dr. Kenneth Prkachin, a clinical psychologist and Heart and Stroke Foundation researcher. Once you become aware of your stressors, then you can plan ahead to avoid getting into those situations in the first place.

Research shows that the body responds to stress with a rapid rise in blood pressure and heart rate. "When we're under stress, we have physiological changes that take place. These end up doing us no good," Prkachin says. The effects of stress are usually temporary, but if stress is constant in your life, you could be putting your heart in danger, he warns. There are many proven ways to reduce your stress once you're already experiencing it, but stopping it before it starts could be even better for your heart.  

Always be prepared
There's a reason why this is the Boy Scouts' motto. Being prepared may take a bit of effort, but it will save you time and stress later.

  • Give yourself 15 minutes extra time to get to any appointment.
  • Don't wait to the last minute to start on projects at work. Start early and you'll be more likely to make it to deadline without feeling under pressure. 
  • Make three copies of your house keys. Carry one set in your pocket or purse. Keep the second copy in a safe place in your house. Entrust a friend or neighbour with the third set in case of lock-outs or other emergencies, Store the originals in a safety deposit box or other safe place so you can make the best quality duplicates if you lose your keys.
  • If you have a car, keep one key on your key ring, one in a safe place at home and one in your wallet. (If you lock your keys inside your car, this may save you major stress.)
  • Going to the bank, post office or airport? You'll probably be waiting for a while, so bring a magazine to read, a Sudoku puzzle to play or something else to distract you from clock-watching. This helps keep stress in check.  

Make night into morning
When you start off your day in a calm, relaxed manner, it can help you stay composed throughout the day. Save yourself from hectic mornings that could set your mood to negative by doing the prep work the night before.

  • Choose tomorrow's outfit. Iron, if needed, and hang it up so it's ready to go.
  • Make packed lunches for you and your family.
  • Set the breakfast table.
  • Set your alarm 15 minutes earlier so you can enjoy a relaxed, unrushed morning.

Leave more time for sleep
Reduced amounts of sleep can put undue stress on you. Lack of sleep has also been linked to high blood pressure and other heart problems. Getting a good night's sleep is important to your heart and it will also help your body recover from daily stress. So, make it easy to get a good night's sleep.

  • Plan to get seven to eight hours of sleep every night.
  • Avoid coffee, tea, cola or anything caffeinated several hours before bedtime.
  • Plan to get regular physical activity most days of the week – it's a great stress reliever and sleep inducer.
  • Wear earplugs if outside noises keep you from a peaceful sleep.
  • Make your bedroom comfortable – lower the temperature on your thermostat, get curtains that block out the light well, buy a better mattress for maximum support.
  • Do any of your morning preparation at least one hour before your planned bedtime.
  • Give yourself time to unwind before getting into bed.

Use a calendar or electronic date book
A calendar can be a great way to stay abreast of upcoming appointments, birthdays and other events. Place your calendar where you will see it every day and keep it updated. Or use a computer or electronic date book that can send you reminders ahead of time.

  • Write down any appointments on your calendar. Missing an appointment can be stressful or even costly.
  • Put in a reminder a few days before your actual appointment.
  • Mark down any upcoming deadlines at work, but use a separate calendar that you keep at your workplace.
  • Schedule one morning a week to do household chores and use the afternoon or evening to take a long bath, read a book or just relax.


Posted April 1, 2008

Heart and Stroke Foundation


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